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Over 300 people have died after flash floods in Afghanistan


Three hundred people, mostly women and children, have died after unusually heavy flash floods hit several provinces in Northern Afghanistan last weekend. Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed, and according to Save the Children, some 40,000 children have lost their homes in the hard-hit Baghlan province. Arshad Malik is Afghanistan's country director for Save the Children, and he joins us from Kabul. Mr. Malik, thanks so much for being with us.

ARSHAD MALIK: Thank you very much for having me.

SIMON: What have you and your team seen on the ground?

MALIK: So our teams have seen nearly entire villages washed away, farmland reduced to mud. Many children have lost a loved one. They have seen family members drowning and being swept away. There are areas which were already devastated by the three years of drought. And families who had a very little livelihood - they have lost everything. In one of the villages where our team have visited, they reported about approximately 250 houses which were completely destroyed, and the whole village was wiped out in less than 2 hours by the force of the water.

SIMON: What kind of help are people getting from aid organizations and the government?

MALIK: So, so far, I think partners, like, Save the Children, U.N. agencies and other NGOs have been trying to provide support to the affected population in the province of Baghlan. Initially, the access was completely restricted. There were areas which were completely cut off.

Our teams, including a clinic on the wheels, our child protection teams, teams which are providing water support - they have so far provided health services to approximately 1,700 people. We are also providing clean water 'cause the water supplies are completely destroyed. We are also looking into providing psychosocial support to the children who have seen their loved one being washed away, and we are trying to manage because they are in a traumatic situation. Agencies are distributing food, agencies are trying to provide nonfood items, shelter.

So there's quite a lot happening in an extremely difficult operating context because roads and bridges are damaged. I'll give you an example, a normal travel between Mazar, a city in north where there is a functional airport to Baghlan, was 1 1/2 hour. It takes 6 hours now.

SIMON: And is the Afghanistan government cooperating with NGOs and other aid groups?

MALIK: So far, we don't have any access challenges. We have been given permission to operate with our female staff and the health team. So we are so far able to operate there.

SIMON: Circumstances in Afghanistan were pretty dire even before the flood, weren't they?

MALIK: Yeah. So Afghanistan has been basically going through a very rough patch where the impact of climate change has severely affected the country. We have seen drought in parts of the country. We are now seeing flash flood. We had delayed snowfall, and then we have extended rains. We've also seen the locust kind of outbreak in certain provinces. We have seen disease outbreak. So the country is going through crisis on top of another crisis. The economy was struggling already with these types of events, natural events. It's becoming more and more difficult for people to cope with the situation.

SIMON: And I gather there's more flooding expected in the coming days. Are people able to get out of the way?

MALIK: Before this call, I was talking to my team in Kabul where we are monitoring a situation in another province called Ghor in Central Afghanistan where we have heard that there's flash flooding. And one thing - I just came back from Faryab, which is an - a province in the - Northern Afghanistan. We had flooding, like, I think, two, three weeks ago there. And in terms of loss of life, only 10 people died. But then when I visited the place, there's significant damage to the farms. As much as we are concerned about the current situation in the country and the flash flooding and the impact of that immediate impact of that on children and families, the longer-term impact of these weather patterns and the flash flooding is also - which is really concerning.

SIMON: Arshad Malik, Save the Children's country director for Afghanistan. Thank you so much for being with us.

MALIK: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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